HL Deb 18 July 1929 vol 75 cc128-33

My Lords, those of your Lordships who were present here two days ago may remember that a somewhat important point of order arose, upon which I think it is perhaps very desirable that something should be said at once in order that the future conduct of business in this House may not be adversely affected. The question which arose was whether the mover had a right of reply. Having regard to the terms of the Standing Order it does seem to me quite undoubted that in all circumstances the mover does have a right shortly to reply, and I hope that, by general agreement among your Lordships, this may be laid down as, generally speaking, the practice of your Lordships' House. There is, perhaps, one caution which I ought to enter, and it is that the mover ought not to abuse his right by speaking too soon, or without assuring himself that every member who wishes to speak has had an opportunity of speaking. That, I think is quite clear.

Having said that, may I go a little further? although here I am afraid that I may not entirely meet the sympathy of the noble Marquess, and that is, with regard to other people speaking after the mover's reply. It seems to me very desirable that the mover should conclude the business, and that his reply should be immediately followed by a Division. Those who have had experience in the conduct of business in county councils or municipal bodies know that, generally speaking, there is a Standing Order that the question shall be put without further discussion as soon as the mover has replied. Nobody is less anxious than I am to curtail the rights of your Lordships to be as disorderly as you wish on every possible occasion, but that is said with this limitation, that, generally speaking, it is very desirable that we should keep to the rules of order understood in other public bodies of this kind. After all, a general rule of order is for the convenience, and has been found by experience to be for the general convenience, of members of the House, and I feel quite sure that, generally speaking, it is very desirable that nobody should speak after the mover has replied. If they do, it is hard on the mover unless he is allowed to reply to those who have been speaking, and that leads to a third speech by the mover, and if more people speak, then to four or even five speeches. This horrible prospect will, I hope, be sufficient to make your Lordships agree with me that, generally speaking, the reply of the mover should conclude the business, and that after that the question should be put either by the occupant of the Woolsack or by the noble Earl in the Chair.


My Lords, I have given a great deal of consideration to this question since last Tuesday, and I have had the great advantage of conferring with the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, in the interval. I am disposed to think that I was wrong on Tuesday last, and that the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, who sits beside the noble Earl, was entitled to reply. I hope he will accept my apologies for having interrupted. I would like to add one or two words upon this very important question of order. In the first plane I think most of your Lordships will agree that, without desiring to have any over-rigid enforcement of the rules of order in this House, yet the practice of speaking several times by a noble Lord on one question has reached a proportion sometimes in this House which has been not conducive to the orderly management of debate. I think we have gone rather too far in that direction, and it was because of the consciousness that that was the besetting sin, if I may say so respectfully, of this House, that I felt impelled to intervene on Tuesday last.

That does seem to me a very important consideration, and I am sure the noble Lord will allow me to say this further, that when a noble Lord is asking leave to withdraw a Motion, then perhaps it is rather specially incumbent upon him not to use his rights and privileges further than are entirely reasonable, because, after all, a request to be allowed to withdraw is a request for indulgence from the House, and in its nature it can only be granted by the unanimous, or practically unanimous, consent of the House. Therefore a noble Lord asking for indulgence might naturally be expected not to want to go again into a speech on the merits of a question which he is asking to withdraw from the cognisance of the House. I only say that by way of explanaton of the reason which induced me to intervene on Tuesday last.

Having said that, I would like to say one or two words upon the history of the case. Up to the year 1889 nobody had a right to speak more than once on a particular question in this House, except in Committee. The rule was universal. But in 1889 there was a Committee of the House and the rule was altered. I think that circumstance probably has escaped the notice of the compilers of that very well-known work Sir Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, because, if your Lordships are interested enough in the subject to refer to that book, you will find that this is what is said:— A reply is only allowed to the Peer or member who has proposed a substantive question to the House. That is, no doubt, the rule in the House of Commons. It is not the rule, as it appears, in your Lordships' House; but I would suggest that it is not altogether surprising that doubt has arisen on this subject when so great an authority as Sir Erskine May has made this direct statement which turns out to be not the fact. It is not true that in this House no Peer has a right to make a second speech who has not proposed a substantive question to the House.

I think the noble Earl and I now agree that any question which is moved by a noble Lord gives him a right of reply, and that the point whether it is a substantive question or not does not arise in this House. It is only right, I think, to point out, in order that it should be made clear, that Sir Erskine May is inaccurate in his account of the rules in this House. In 1889 a Committee sat, and then for the first time the words were inserted in the Standing Order "except the mover in reply." The old Order, which had existed from time immemorial, was thus varied in 1889, and there is no doubt, if the words of the Standing Order are studied carefully, that the exception is general and does not apply only to substantive Motions or to Bills, but does apply to any proposition which a noble Lord may move. Therefore I think we may be said to be agreed as to the rule. I am not saying that I desire that the rule about a reply or a repeated speech by a noble Lord who is not a mover should be too rigidly enforced. I know there are occasions when it is very convenient that a noble Lord who has already addressed us should be again indulged and allowed to make a second speech, but I think that we should be a little more careful than we have been in obeying the rules against a second speech upon one question.

There remains the point raised at the end of the observations of the noble Earl. He says that in his view the mover's reply should conclude the debate and be followed by the Division. I do not think that the words of the Standing Order can be held necessarily to carry that implication. It will be a possible reading of the words of the Standing Order, but I think perhaps rather a strained reading; and at any rate I should be rather reluctant, notwithstanding the great authority of the noble Earl, to accept that as the absolute rule of the House, and if the House will allow me I will say why. I have been in office for some years lately, and though I am not in office at this moment, yet I may be allowed to speak disrespectfully of Ministers without being rude to noble Lords sitting on the Bench opposite. I think, for example, that as the noble Earl would wish the rule enforced it would be quite possible for a Minister to do this in making a Motion: he might make the Motion quite formally, merely rise and move, then the debate would follow and he would then reply. The substantial speech for the Government would not be made then under the noble Earl's arrangement until the end of the debate, and there would be no possibility, if that rule applied, for anybody afterwards to comment upon what had been the substantial defence which the Government had made of their procedure. The Minister's action in reserving his observations until his reply would practically preclude the House from debating the subject at all in the light of the Ministerial statement.

I think that exhibits in a concrete illustration how unwise we should be to lay it down rigidly that speeches should not follow the reply of the mover. I agree with the noble Earl that as a broad rule it is more convenient that the reply of the mover should take place at the end of the debate, but with great respect to him—and he knows that I have a great opinion of his knowledge of the House—I should not like, as far as may opinions are of any value, to fall in with the general statement that at the end of the mover's second speech no further debate should take place. In one sense I cannot say that I regret the incident which has arisen, because it has enabled us to have the great advantage of the noble Earl's views of what the rules ought to be, and it has given me the opportunity of saying what in my opinion should be the general attitude towards debates in this House.


My Lords, I am sure we are very grateful to the noble Earl and the noble Marquess for the speeches they have made in regard to the conduct of business in this House. I believe it generally falls to the Leader of the House to see that the rules are maintained. I have no doubt whatever what the rules are at the present time, and there was no breach of the rules by Lord Strachie the other night. It may be that the rule was formerly different, but the rule that I have before me is quite clear—namely, that no Lord is to speak a second time except in the case of the mover in reply, whether on the occasion of the Reading of a Bill or any other proposition. And it really does not make any difference in principle whether the particular Motion is an original Motion or whether it has become a substantive Motion after being first proposed by a noble Lord as an Amendment. I should be very sorry, and I am sure the noble Marquess would be now that the matter has been called to his attention, that there should be any interference with the right of reply. I happened not long ago to have fallen into the same mistake myself, if it were a mistake, in claiming a right of reply when I was sitting where the noble Marquess is now, but that was after very careful study of the rule, and after taking the best authority that I could from our guardians who sit at the Table.

On the other hand, I think the other matter is quite clear. It may be that the Standing Order requires addition, but I do not think we have really suffered from it. It is, I say, quite clear that any one is entitled to speak once, either on a Bill or a Resolution in this House, even after the mover has in the particular case replied. No one can take away that right from any noble Lord in this House, merely by replying too soon or by some other procedure. It is an inherent right that any noble Lord has in this House on any particular Motion or on any particular Bill to speak once. I do not think that the rule has ever been materially departed from. On the other hand, I do not think that noble Lords have taken advantage of it by speaking later in the debate than they otherwise would. I think that subsequent speeches have really been personal explanations, and there is a provision in the Standing Orders themselves that personal explanations may be made.

As regards the withdrawal of a Motion before the House I quite agree that that is not an occasion for a speech at all. You do not want substantial unanimity, you must have actual unanimity, and if any one member of this House objects to the withdrawal of a Motion, the Motion cannot be withdrawn, and it must go to Division. It seems to me that our Standing Orders are substantially clear, but if there is any doubt, or if the House generally desires further consideration, I think that after we come back in the autumn, perhaps after communication with the Chairman of Committees and the noble Marquess opposite [Lord Salisbury] and the noble Earl [Lord Beauchamp], if further steps are necessary in the way of elucidation we might have a small Committee appointed. But, as matters stand, they appear to me to be clear, and I must say that my experience is that on the whole we are a very orderly body in the conduct of our deliberations. It is very seldom that any question arises, and, when it does, we can generally solve it in the same friendly way that we have done this evening.